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Dr Makanga, treating Kenya’s top footballers three decades and counting

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JEFF KINYANJUI

By JEFF KINYANJUI
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He is a sports medicine clinician and a Confederation of African Football (Caf) certified sports medicine instructor.

Meet Dr Wycliff Makanga, a 55-year-old medical expert currently attached to the Kenya football team Harambee Stars and Kenyan Premier League side Tusker.

Victor Wanyama (on the ground) of Harambee
Victor Wanyama (on the ground) of Harambee Stars is attended to by Wycliffe Makanga (left) and Boaz Otieno during during their 2014 World Cup qualifier against Nigeria at Moi international Sports Centre, Kasarani on June 5, 2013. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Born in Luanda, Vihiga county, Makanga attended primary and secondary school in Western Kenya.

He has been practicing sports medicine for almost three decades as he explains to Nation Sport.

“Sports medicine is a branch of medicine concerned with the welfare of athletes and deals with the science and medical treatment of those involved in sports and physical activities. The objectives of sports medicine include prevention, protection, and correction of injuries, and the preparation of an individual or physical activity in its full range of intensity.”

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But how did he get into this branch of medicine?

“My journey in sports medicine started some time back. After coming out of medical school, I joined East African Breweries Limited in 1990 as the Clinic Services Manager at their plant in Kisumu. As a young clinician in charge of the medical services and the clinic in the Kisumu factory. I attended to workplace medical emergencies, treated the company employees and their families together with medical administrative duties.

Dr Makanga warms up to his story: “In the early 1990s, I was called upon to preside over an Amateur Professional Boxing (APB) tournament as the ringside doctor. This event led to another. Kenya Breweries FC (now Tusker FC) came over to Western Kenya without their doctor from our main KBL clinic in Nairobi. I was called upon to step in and attend to the team during their stay. I never looked back. I developed an interest in sports medicine hence my appointment to double up as the team doctor for Kenya Breweries Football Club and my medical duties at the company clinic in 1994.

“Through high school, I loved sports with football being my favourite. Upon leaving the company in 2003, I continued with my full-time duties at Tusker as the team doctor,” he adds.

Harambee Stars doctor Wycliffe Makanga attends
Harambee Stars doctor Wycliffe Makanga attends to striker Dennis Oliech during training at Nyayo on February 28, 2012. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Makanga has had the privilege of working under many coaches in his career both at the club and national level. He singles out several for their professionalism.

“In this journey, I’ve worked under 25 experienced coaches. Of them all, there are seven top coaches whom their football knowledge, understanding, and management made me excel in dispatching my duties. I enjoyed working with Sebastien Migne, Jacob “Ghost” Mulee, current Harambee stars head coach — Francis Kimanzi, Twahir Muhiddin, Zedekiah Otieno, Sammy Omollo and the current Tusker coach Robert Matano,” he said.

Makanga has acquired some professional certification along the way and he has Caf and Fifa to thank for that.

“My journey on doping control started in 2006. I attended a Caf sports medicine course in Khartoum, Sudan. In September 2009 I had my first appointment as the Doping Control Officer for Caf in a Champions League match in Lusaka, Zambia. It was challenging. From there on it was all systems go in the fight against doping in sports,” he said.

“I also undertook a Fifa sports medicine course in Livingstone Zambia in 2008 that enhanced my skills in the field making me a better sports medicine clinician.”

“Football medicine being a wide subject, apart from being the club doctor and the lead pitchside doctor during international matches, I’ve been called on to perform medical examinations on the referees during the CAF/Fifa physical endurance tests,” he adds.

Makanga was awarded the President’s Award by the Sports Journalists Association of Kenya (SJAK) in 2019 for his service to football and he ranks this as one of the major highlights in his sports medicine career.

SJAK president Chris Mbaisi hands over the
SJAK president Chris Mbaisi hands over the Chairman Prize to Tusker media liaison officer Diana Yonah on behalf of Dr Wycliffe Makanga on August 19, 2019 during the LG SJAK Kenyan Premier League Gale at Museum Auditorium, Nairobi. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“Also being part of the medical team and the team doctor for the Kenya during 2019 Afcon in Egypt was a major milestone for me. The medical team set up a state of art medical treatment room with all the clinical diagnostic and physical therapy equipment. This was great teamwork and I enjoyed every bit of it,” he says.

“I was also the team doctor for Harambee Stars when they won the Cecafa title in 2013 in Nairobi. I have been at Tusker for over two decades serving as the team doctor and leader of the medical team. We have successfully won the KPL and Cecafa titles. Reaching the final of Caf Champions Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994 against Daring Club Motema Pembe is also a moment I will always cherish.

“I have had some good times at Tusker and I don’t take it for granted. On one occasion in 2008, I had to double up as the team manager and doctor. And guess what, we won the Cecafa Club Championship title in Dar es Salaam that year.”

The experienced and widely travelled sports medicine clinician, who also holds a postgraduate diploma in sports medicine, singles out Dr Andrew Sule – consultant physician and chairman of the KPL medical and fitness committee, for his mentorship and guidance through his journey in sports medicine.

He also thanks orthopaedic surgeons Dr Jeff Mailu and Dr Vincent Mutiso for their professional way of handling sports injury-related referral cases and spearheading the Sports Medicine Society of Kenya, the umbrella bringing all the sporting medical personnel together, for a noble course.

Medical-related challenges in his line of work includes pitchside emergencies, other conditions, expectations from coaches, recurring injuries and the lack of important equipment due to budgetary constraints.

He has also handled some memorable emergencies while on duty, but concussions stand out.

“The most recent case I recall is during the Harambee Starlets match against Ghana in Machakos in 2017. A Ghanaian player sustained a concussion and we had to move in fast to rescue the situation. In the early 1990s, a Tusker player, suffered a severe concussion during a league match.”

“I also remember we were playing Gor Mahia in a KPL league match in 1998. A Gor Mahia striker suffered a concussion. I had to run on to the pitch from our bench. I applied the emergency life — saving protocol. We saved and rescued the player.”

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“I have attended to a number of other players in the KPL who suffered concussions and it is never easy. Cases of shoulder dislocations and fractures also require careful attention as well as severely cut wounds which require pitchside stitching.”

Makanga has handled some great Kenyan footballers in his line of work but he remembers a particular instance he was required to give a go-ahead to the Tusker FC technical bench on the state of Sammy “Pamzo” Omolo, who was then a dependable defender.

“I recall in 1994 I travelled with Tusker to Kinshasa to face Motema Pembe. Sammy Omollo was recovering from malaria. The coach then Elly Adero was so worried that Sammy being the kingpin in the defence had not trained for a few days before the match and was not going to be ready for the encounter. Having worked on his recovery programme, come the day of the match very early in the morning, we did clinical and fitness evaluation. Sammy played very well in the entire match. This gave me great satisfaction.”

According to Makanga, the most common injuries in Kenyan football are ankle and knee injuries, muscle soft tissue injuries mostly the hamstring, not forgetting head injuries – concussions and fractures.

“The pitchside medical management and the further intervention of the cases to stabilisation of these players’ clinical status has always given my job satisfaction,” he says.

What needs to improve in sports medicine in Kenya?

“It is vital in modern sport to have an emergency equipment kit by the pitchside. Fully equipped with life-saving tools, just to mention, Automated External Defibrillator (AED), cervical spine collars, stretchers, spinal boards, and other crucial medical equipment.”

“Clubs also need to train their staff on emergency procedures and sports injuries. Match-day ambulances should be fully equipped and fitted with medical emergency equipment. The referral health facility in case of further medical care should well be indicated before any game kicks off. Health insurance of our players should also be made mandatory with NHIF being the basic minimum,” he emphasises.

Kenya’s All Stars team doctor Wycliffe Makanga
Kenya’s All Stars team doctor Wycliffe Makanga poses for photos with a Hull City jersey at the KCOM Stadium in Kingston Upon Hull on February 23. PHOTO | FILE |

Makanga is however happy with the progress that has been made so far.

“Football medicine in Kenya is on the right track. We have set up the FKF and KPL medical committees — this was a step in the right direction. Match management medical protocols as directed by CAF/Fifa and applied have been a success in enabling matches to be safe and adhering to the safety standards required. The availability of ambulances, pitchside medical personnel, and equipment in important. The use of the Automated External Defibrillators is also is huge achievement,” he says.

“The periodic medical workshops for the KPL clubs’ medics conducted by the KPL medical committee have helped in keeping the medics abreast of the developing trends in sports medicine. The setting up of in-house medical treatment rooms and clinics for the national football teams when in camp, is an excellent achievement. This is a milestone achievement.

Makanga continues to paint the picture of the daily environment he operates in.

“Teamwork in clubs’ medical departments must be emphasised. As club medics and physios you must work hand-in-hand with the physical and fitness trainers. Once you form your medical working teams the health of the players is enhanced. It has worked very well at Harambee Stars and Tusker.”

Kenya’s All Stars team doctor Wycliffe Makanga
Kenya’s All Stars team doctor Wycliffe Makanga (centre) with the rest of the team leave Heathrow International Airport on February 22 after arriving from Nairobi for a match against Hull City. PHOTO | FILE |

Makanga lauds the good progress done by the Anti-Doping Agency in Kenya (Adak) and Caf in the fight against doping.

“Medical examinations for the players in all phases must continue to be done and documented. They include preseason clinical assessments, ECG, ECHO, blood profile, and urine examinations. We have always carried out the assessments on our Tusker players.”

He says the affiliation to the Sports Medicine Society of Kenya, of all medical departments in different sports entities like football, rugby, athletics, basketball, hockey and boxing should be emphasised.

“I sincerely thank EABL and Tusker FC for grooming me and setting up the platform for this journey. They have been my source of inspiration, the federation for believing in me and making it a reality.”

His advice to fellow sports medicine practitioners is to work on getting better at what they do.

“We have come a long way in sports and football medicine, we have made very good progress reflecting on these achievements.

“We will continue to do so. Let us all in our various teams remember, medical teamwork, team preventive health talks and further clinical consultations in regards to our players’ health when the need arises are the key points to our success. Always, let us remember a correct diagnosis is half the cure. As we welcome these players in our teams let us do so with one motto — when these players leave our teams, let them be in better health than when they came in. The health of the player comes first.”

Tusker FC doctor Wycliffe Makanga attends to
Tusker FC doctor Wycliffe Makanga attends to defender Brian Mandela during their Kenyan Premier League match against KCB at the Nairobi City Stadium on November 5, 2011. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

As years go by, Makanga admits he needs to pass on the baton to the next generation of sports medicine practitioners.

“As a doctor, you never retire, you serve forever but with my vast knowledge in football medicine I should be able to pass on the services, knowledge, skills and even, on a consultation basis, to the young upcoming medics from grass root levels once given opportunities to do so.”

“For now I am eager to ensure all national team players are healthy and in the good physical condition that will ensure we qualify for the next Afcon and World Cup. I also have to ensure my Tusker players are in tip-top shape and hopefully win a KPL title soon — it’s been a while. If we achieve that it will be a dream come true for me.”





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